Tension-type headache

Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2021 Mar 25;7(1):24. doi: 10.1038/s41572-021-00257-2.


Tension-type headache (TTH) is the most prevalent neurological disorder worldwide and is characterized by recurrent headaches of mild to moderate intensity, bilateral location, pressing or tightening quality, and no aggravation by routine physical activity. Diagnosis is based on headache history and the exclusion of alternative diagnoses, with clinical criteria provided by the International Classification of Headache Disorders, third edition. Although the biological underpinnings remain unresolved, it seems likely that peripheral mechanisms are responsible for the genesis of pain in TTH, whereas central sensitization may be involved in transformation from episodic to chronic TTH. Pharmacological therapy is the mainstay of clinical management and can be divided into acute and preventive treatments. Simple analgesics have evidence-based effectiveness and are widely regarded as first-line medications for the acute treatment of TTH. Preventive treatment should be considered in individuals with frequent episodic and chronic TTH, and if simple analgesics are ineffective, poorly tolerated or contraindicated. Recommended preventive treatments include amitriptyline, venlafaxine and mirtazapine, as well as some selected non-pharmacological therapies. Despite the widespread prevalence and associated disability of TTH, little progress has been made since the early 2000s owing to a lack of attention and resource allocation by scientists, funding bodies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Tension-Type Headache* / diagnosis
  • Tension-Type Headache* / epidemiology
  • Tension-Type Headache* / etiology


  • Analgesics